It was August 2016 and we were headed for the Dimboola Food Festival. An unlikely destination, perhaps, but among the exhibitors was Luv-a-Duck, based in nearby Nhill. And our daughter happened, at the time, to be on the Luv-a-Duck sales team so the least we could do was show our support. As I recall, it was cold and the open-air booth offering duck tastings was not exactly besieged with takers. The daughter has since moved on, but we somehow still feel a family connection to the brand.
Luv-a-Duck is an Australian-owned family company although, in March 2023, there was a report that the daughters of the founder were looking for a partner to buy in. The firm traces its origins back to 1968 when dry cleaner Arthur (Art) Shoppee almost accidentally found himself in the duck business. The story goes that he went to Melbourne to buy chickens to fatten up for the family freezer but, in the absence of suitable chicks, came home with 20 ducklings instead. He raised them in a shed and initially found a market in the restaurants of Adelaide.
In 1978, the Luv-a-Duck trade mark was registered. With a strategic position on the western highway, about halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide, the business was well-placed to supply both cities. Over the years, Art worked to improve the breed of his ducks, occasionally ending up on the wrong side of the law. In 1979, a pilot was fined for illegally importing duck eggs at Art’s behest.
The company continued to grow and now provides a range of pre-cooked and fresh products to restaurants and the retail trade. Operations are still based in Nhill, in the Wimmera district of Victoria but a second facility has been opened in Ballarat. Luv-a-Duck operates a hatchery, then the day-old ducklings are provided to contracted growers to “grow out”. The company has this to say about how their ducks are raised:
Ducks are housed in large, enclosure like barns that allow natural light and fresh air to flow in and also provides room to move around and for the ducks to socialise. Trained stock-men take care of the duck’s welfare ensuring that they are comfortable, relaxed and that there is always dry and clean litter to walk on. By growing the duck inside they are protected from adverse weather conditions and predators that include foxes, feral cats, crows and magpies. They are also protected from disease transmission from migratory birds which is a serious issue.
Luv-a-Duck has become well-known for providing employment for a significant number of Karen-Burmese refugees, with the first workers moving from Melbourne in 2010. According to Amnesty International, Karen people now make up some 10 per cent of the population of Nhill and 18 per cent of its workforce.
As for the Dimboola Food Festival? Despite ambitions to make it an annual event, it seems the Festival is no more.